This blog first appeared on the Pearson School Model blog

In his last guest post Daivd Weston, Chief Executive of the Teacher Development Trust, relates the discussion had in their recent webinar exploring the thorny question: if we know how to make CPD more effective, why isn’t it happening?

Lack of understanding and pressure from competing leadership priorities were the key obstacles identified by participants in a high-profile final webinar. Russell Hobby, General Secretary of the NAHT, suggested:

“There’s a gap between practitioners and researchers on this [topic], in the sense that I suspect that not all school leaders do know what effective CPD is, or are confident that they know which aspects of CPD will help them deliver their priorities”

While most of the attendees felt that resourcing shouldn’t be a big issue for schools, Lisa Bradbury Principal professional learning manager from the Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE) , thought that some teachers and school leaders might not be aware that:

“Good CPD doesn’t mean expensive CPD if people have a real understanding of all [the relevant] factors”

This lack of understanding was a frequently-discussed theme, with conversation focusing around the prior experiences of teachers and leaders that led them to believe that, because their previous professional development had been of poor quality, there was no particular benefit in pursuing it as a priority. Tom Sherrington, Headteacher at King Edward VI Grammar School in Chelmsford, identified the issue of a lack of belief in the evidence that new ideas might lead to improved learning and that

“… presenting, for example, the research around formative assessment is a powerful thing – people believe in it because they know that there is evidence behind it that shows it works in a number of context”

There seemed to be general agreement among the webinar attendees that it is Headteachers who hold the key to improving the cultures of CPD within their schools.Viviane Robinson’s research in New Zealand demonstrated clearly that leaders’ focus on teacher learning is their most effective tool to raise pupil achievement, but this is not a commonly known or acknowledged fact. Russell Hobby suggested that

“if we could demonstrate to Headteachers clearly that you will raise standards in your school, your job will be easier and your school will be more successful if you invest in this sort of development then it would become a no-brainer… [we need to show that] schools that have been in your circumstances have made the journey through these sorts of investments”

Attendees who were representing training organisations recounted noted that they were most commonly asked for one-off training, rather than the repeated engagement that would have had significantly more impact. Headteachers and CPD leaders tended to want training that ‘ticked the box’ of particular desirable teacher behaviours (such as behaviour management or assessment for learning), rather than focusing their efforts on improving learning outcomes for specific pupils – something that the research suggests is significantly more powerful and effective for improving learning.

The consensus by the end of the session was that genuine improvement is not likely to come about by government mandating fixed hours or budgets for CPD, but that the key was to redouble efforts to persuade and educate school leaders about the benefits of, and processes involved in, effective whole school professional learning.

Following this last webinar, there will be on-going discussion and comment on Twitter using the hashtag #betterCPD. The Teacher Development Trust will be continuing debate on this theme with a focus on bringing about successful leadership.

The slides used in this debate are available here.